A cloud inside a closet

I stood before a bedroom closet this week and surveyed the scene. The task I assigned myself would be simple: remove the childhood memoirs, reorganize the items and label, then move everything to the attic. Once cleared, I would paint inside the closet as step one of my plan to transform what was once a child’s bedroom into a den. I want a place to write and pay bills and a nice room where the kids can sleep when they come home to visit.

I had not imagined how sentimental the sorting would become.

As I looked through school papers, beloved stuffed toys, and prom dresses I listened to political commentators. They dissected each word of the acceptance speech Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin delivered at the Republican National Convention following her nomination as John McCain’s running mate. Has the meteoric rise of this hockey mom prepared her adequately to be vice president? We know women can multitask, but can she adequately parent a 17-year-old daughter soon to become a mother herself, take a call from the president, and nurse her newborn son at the same time?

As I grabbed a pile of jeans my hand touched a green, liter-sized soda bottle. Simply holding it in my hand forced the issues of the day into the background and my thoughts traveled back in time to the day, 15 years ago, when my husband announced he had added climbing Mount Rainier to his “Bucket List.”

It was good to see Matt digging into his backpacking paraphernalia. As he sat in the middle of the floor sorting through moleskin and wool socks, our kids did their own kind of exploring.

Megan sat close to her daddy’s side and inquired about his old hiking buddies and the adventures they shared as teenagers. Daniel stepped on everyone’s legs and careened over carefully packaged food with his dad’s bulky hiking boots, slipped over tiny bare feet.

Katie sat quietly on her knees, her eyes looking pensive as she peered out from under a large blue climbing helmet. I knew she was concerned about his climb up Mount Rainier, scheduled to begin the next day. I did not know how thoroughly she had thought about his adventure.

“Why do you need this ice pick? Will you get cold? The stream of questions poured out and her demeanor improved as Matt carefully answered her inquiries.

Then came the question that seemed toughest of all: “How high in the sky will you be?” When it became apparent that quoting elevations would not provide a satisfactory explanation to this 5-year-old, Matt quickly moved to a reference he knew she would understand.

“When I reach the top,” he explained, “I’ll be up in the clouds.”

“Close to heaven,” Katie concluded out loud. As she worked over that thought in her mind, she made a request that put a smile on her daddy’s face.

“Will you bring me a cloud?” she asked.

“I’ll do that,” he answered.

He left before the sunrise the next morning for his big adventure. I was happy the opportunity to climb with friends and a professional guide had come Matt’s way. He had the right gear and had been working out, often twice daily, to prepare for the climb considered one of the most challenging in the lower 48 states.

At 2:15 a.m. three days later, my bearded climber limped through our back door, exhausted but satisfied. The conditions had been windy and 45 of the 60 climbers turned back. But their group’s guide remained confident the weather would improve up top. The remaining 15 continued, one deliberate step at a time, until they reached the summit nine hours later.

It all sounded tortuous to me, climbing up steep icy slopes in the dark. I felt a renewed respect for Matt’s ability to stick to a difficult task and wanted to know what kept him going when the air was thin and the slope dangerous.

“Katie’s cloud,” he replied. And out of his backpack came a plastic Sprite bottle, filled with hundreds of little water droplets and condensation. “I kept saying to myself, ‘I’ve got to get Katie’s cloud.’”

Back at base camp word had spread that one of the hikers had a little girl named Katie who wanted her daddy to capture a cloud. And because so many had chosen to reattempt a summit climb the next day, it seems they had a lot of spare time to nap and talk among themselves. Katie’s cloud became a hot topic.

“Are you Klope?” an Army Ranger inquired of Matt shortly after he returned from Rainier’s summit. When Matt answered in the affirmative, the request then came to see Katie’s cloud. Several huddled to see the prized capture.

Endurance. Adventure. Love. It’s captured in a green bottle and won’t go in the attic, after all. It’ll sit on a shelf, reminding me that God enlivens us all with adventures and enables us if we ask for His presence.

All we have to do is take that first step.

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